Ban on sport betting teeters at Supreme Court

Lynette Rowe
December 6, 2017

But a broad ruling for New Jersey could have consequences for other ways that the federal government tries to push policy preferences on state officials.

In 2011, New Jersey's voters by a 2-to-1 margin approved sports betting, but federal courts have repeatedly blocked the state from allowing such gaming at its racetracks and casinos. The framework for the current law was put in place back in 1992 and is called PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Betting Act of 1992), and stated that sports betting on individual sporting events would only be allowed in the state of Nevada (where it was already being conducted legally at the time) and protected sports lotteries in Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.

On the steps of the Supreme Court after arguments, Christie told reporters that bets could be taken in New Jersey within two weeks if the court rules in the state's favor, The Associated Press reported. The nine justices hearing the arguments are expected to issue a ruling by 2018 in the spring.

Bookmaker Jay Rood at the Race & Sports Book betting counter at The Mirage where crowds place bets for Super Bowl 50 Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016.

The hope for those who want to legalize sports gambling is to crack down on illegal and unregulated online gaming and replace it with a safe option which includes protection against money laundering and fraud.

U.S. Supreme Court justices suggested they may uphold New Jersey's legalization of sports gambling, in a move that could ripple quickly across the country and let other states grab some of the billions of dollars now bet illegally. The constitutionality of PASPA is at stake and more broadly, whether New Jersey and a host of other states interested in licensing and regulating sports betting - like Nevada does - may soon be able to do so in the absence of PASPA. If the court rules that only such a partial repeal can be allowed then New Jersey would be the only state allowed to have sports wagering. After an hour of spirited debate today, a majority of the justices seemed inclined to agree with New Jersey.

According to the brief filed by the NCAA, which quoted from the 1992 Senate report which considered the new state revenue stream but concluded "the risk to the reputation of one of our nation's most popular pastimes ... is not worth it".

At one point, according to transcripts, as Justice Stephen Breyer attempted to summarize New Jersey's arguments, Olson thanked him for doing it better than he could have.

Alabama is not among those joining in the New Jersey case, though surrounding states Florida, Mississippi and Tennessee are.

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- Before oral argument, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was sworn in the Supreme Court bar (followed by about 30 more attorneys).

Should the Supreme Court legalize sports betting, the matter could still end up before Congress.

"If it were struck down, each state would be allowed to authorize sports betting on a state-by-state basis", said Mark Hichar, a gaming law attorney practicing in Rhode Island and MA.

"The leagues are very concerned about a state by state approach". It is estimated to be a $150 billion per year illicit enterprise-with local, state and federal governments getting zero. The action was a direct challenge to the federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. Major professional sports leagues across the country have been successful in shutting down these efforts through the courts. A decision in the case is expected by summer.

Governor Christie echoed these arguments saying: "I think it violates the Tenth Amendment, and that's why I think you saw so many governors join the [amicus brief] on this, because they understand that today's sports gaming will be something else tomorrow".

Paul Clement, representing the sports leagues, said the law was clear.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) introduced legislation on Monday that would repeal PASPA and give states the authority to regulate gambling within their borders.

Even as they challenge the New Jersey law, some of the leagues are inching closer to embracing gambling themselves.

"First, they have gambling already".

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